The Park School history department considers the ultimate goal of historical study at the secondary level to be the formation of those attitudes and skills that enable students to understand the world around them so that they can constructively participate in a democratic society.
We hope to graduate young people who recognize the non-objective nature of information and who take the time to seek out and compare alternative contentions in arriving logically at personal positions concerning the key issues of their world.
The emphasis in course organization is generally on historical problems, and assignments emphasize a discriminating analysis of both primary sources and secondary interpretations. We employ a variety of readings and teaching techniques to stimulate and develop effective self-expression, both written and oral. Basic historical research skills are taught in required courses, culminating in a major research paper each year.
Three years of history are required for graduation; additionally, most students take at least one elective course in history.
Independent Studies can be arranged in the history department for semester credit; every year a small number of students—usually juniors and seniors—seek this opportunity to work independently on a subject of their interest.
- Grade 9: Foundations in History
- Grade 10: Modern World 1
- Grade 11: Modern World 2
History 9: Foundations in History
Grade 9 • Required
In 9th grade history, students will pursue a year-long exploration of foundations in history – both as craft and as an object of study. The Fall semester is built around “National History Day.” This is a multi-step project that will provide students with the chance to immerse themselves fully in the experience of doing history, growing their skills in researching and developing an argument, and producing a project for an audience beyond their teacher. It also serves to expose them to the range of possibilities within history as a discipline – from essay-writing to documentary-making. In the Spring Semester, students will shift to immersing themselves in studying and making sense of four major turning points in world history – an experience to set them up for deeper dives into specific regions and case studies in History 10 and 11.
History 10: Modern World 1
Grade 10 • Required
At the heart of students’ study in History 10 is an examination of power and the ways it began to change in the world between 1400 and 1900. To that end, the class will be asking some essential questions: How did people organize power across the globe around 1400? What did they see as legitimate sources of authority? How did belief-systems and the quest for resources interact to shape power and the goals of power? Why and how did some groups assert greater power over others? Why and how did ideas about power change on a global scale between 1450 and 1900? How did different groups reckon with change? What lessons are there for understanding how power works in our world today? What legacies might we still be grappling with?
In this course, students analyze and explore the competing political philosophies and global trends that defined the turbulent period after WWI: nationalism, liberalism, imperialism, communism, fascism, independence movements, and decolonization. One central theme to be considered throughout is the role these forces played in changing assumptions in different parts of the world about social and political hierarchy. A research paper, building on skills learned in the 9th and 10th Grades, is required.
A History of Belief: Exploring World Religions
This course will explore major world religions from both historical and philosophical perspectives. Students will consider and compare the complex answers given by various belief systems to life’s most fundamental questions. What is true? What gives life meaning? How should I live? And how do we know? The class will also explore the ways in which each religion is a product of its history. How did it answer the specific needs of the place and time in which it emerged? How did it interact with belief systems? How and why did it change over time? The specific religions examined will be influenced by the interests of the group, but will likely include a balance of nature-based, eastern, and Judaeo-Christian belief systems.
Art History: Recurring Themes
More than ever before, we live in a world of man-made appearance, and whether we are conscious of it or not, what we see affects us. In this course, students will develop visual literacy and learn to recognize how various cultures have expressed and perpetuated many of their most deeply held values through art and architecture. The ultimate question is this: how does art (from painting and architecture to advertising and fashion) influence our own sense of reality and shape our own desires? To approach this question in a manageable way, students will examine three or four major themes that recur throughout art history, such as Sacred Space, The Body, Power & Protest, Gender & Identity, and The Environment. Students will study a broad range of works, comparing the ways artists from different time periods and cultures have responded to each theme. They will discuss, read and write about art, and plan to take a field trip or two to see some art in person. (Readings will be provided in class.) This course can be taken for arts or history credit.
History of Baltimore
In this course, students will aim to investigate their home towns from the colonial period to religious, social, cultural, racial, and political. Topics for study include industrialization and deindustrialization, stability and instability, migration and immigration, redlining, and white flight. The central text for the course is Antero Pietila’s Not In My Neighborhood, supplemented by several collections of shorter writings. The class will endeavor on some driving/walking tours of the city, and will have the chance to talk with several experts on particular topics.
Public Digital Humanities
This course connects student learning in history and literature with the methods, approaches, and skills of using digital tools to collaborate with local communities, historical societies, museums, and libraries in projects focusing on public conversations. The primary emphasis of the course will be on local and regional history, literary, and cultural heritage, but students will make connections to topics of national and global interest. This course will allow students to do archival research, conduct oral histories, build digital presentations, analyze and write non-fiction narratives. Students can also stage performances, organize art installations, curate photographic exhibitions, and deliver public lectures on literary and historical issues. This course may be taken for an art or history credit.
Revolution and Reform in Twentieth-Century Latin America
Emerging from a century of independence wars and nation-building, much of Latin America entered the twentieth century in a state of flux: what did it mean to be “Latin American,” or to identify within a Latin American nation? How did the people of these nations, or those who had gained control in the absence of colonial rule, envision their futures? And by what means should they realize those goals? Did the solution lie in tearing down old regimes through revolution? Or did it lie in gradual reform of existing structures? This course will examine the paths that many of these countries followed as increasing numbers of people assumed participatory roles in promoting political, social, and economic change. Using a comparative lens, students will look at the unique conditions that gave rise to these different movements, the goals and tactics of their leaders, and their varying degrees of success. As they study the situations “on-the-ground,” they will also consider the cultural ramifications of such reforms and revolutions in an attempt to understand how these national projects reinforced — or challenged — a shared “Latin American” identity.
The Civil Rights Movement
The passings of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, known as the Civil War Amendments, were designed to provide equality for recently emancipated slaves. However, the political rights “granted” by Southern States almost immediately became “Black Codes” and then “Jim Crow Laws.” In spite of Reconstruction’s promises, this new order meant to keep African Americans “in their place” and treat them as second-class citizens. Since that time, various individuals — African American, Native American and Mexican (Hispanic) American — have fought to have the natural rights granted by the Constitution to all citizens of the United States. In this course, students will explore the long history of their activism from its roots in the colonial period to the present while building a good understanding of the journey.
The Twentieth Century With Baldwin and Orwell
In 1949 George Orwell published his dystopian novel 1984; in the same year James Baldwin traveled to Paris and worked on his novel Go Tell It On the Mountain. These two writers, from completely different backgrounds, never met one another. However, their work helped to define the 20th century. To read Baldwin’s and Orwell’s works is to examine some of the essential problems of the twentieth century. Baldwin and Orwell challenge us to be honest and not doctrinaire, to question our most precious possessions: our passionately held convictions. In this class, students will read a sampling of each writer’s work that will take them through the issues of colonialism and imperialism, racism, poverty and class, labor and social structures, politics and language, and the rise of totalitarianism. Readings will include the fiction and non-fiction of Baldwin and Orwell.
The Vietnam Wars
The struggle for Vietnam occupies a central place in the history of the 20th century. How did it happen? Why were the Vietnamese at war with each other? Why did France, China, and the US involve themselves? Why did so many people outside of Vietnam care? Why did it drag on for so many decades? Why does it continue to loom so large in American memory and foreign policy today? This seminar-style course draws on a rich variety of sources and perspectives to explore these questions. Specific topics include: the impact of French colonialism on traditional Vietnamese society; the role of World War II in the rise of nationalism and communism in Vietnam; the motives, stages, and strategies of American intervention in Vietnam; the experiences of the Vietnamese; the rise of the anti-war movement in the US; and the lessons and legacies of the conflict for both Vietnam and the United States.
Art History: Questioning the Role of Art in Society
What is art? What is it for? Who controls it? Who gets to decide what art is? We often think of the existence of art as self-evident and transparent, but, in fact, it is the product of a host of assumptions made by those who create it, use it, or buy it. This class will blend history, art history, and anthropology to examine the changing ways in which societies have used and imagined art, from prehistoric painters to 21st century investors in NFTs, over the course of human history. Rather than a chronological survey of works of art in and of themselves, this is a course about the idea of art and artists. As such, the approach will be comparative and thematic. Specific course topics and case studies will be driven by student interest, but they may revolve around questions like: Who owns the art of the past? Must an artist starve? Do patrons create art? Why does the value of a work of art change if our understanding of the work’s creation changes? Is there a difference between a Grecian urn and an IKEA pitcher? What happens to an object made in one context when it is taken into another context? Can a body ever be art? Does art that memorializes the past have a value separate from the event it memorializes? This course may be taken for an arts or history credit.
Early West African Perspectives
This course will examine the rise of kingdoms and cultures in West Africa from early humanity to the first encounters with European invaders. Drawing upon a rich variety of sources — including written accounts, oral tradition, material culture, and historical fiction — it will explore power and cultural legacies from insider lenses. While highlighting the splendor and greatness of these often-overlooked societies and empires, the course will also necessitate ongoing conversations about who, historically, has controlled African narratives and how we, as outsider-historians, can center West African voices as we endeavor to understand these histories. Rather than situating colonization as an inevitable future, students will let their sources speak for themselves as they become acquainted with the wealth, power, and the diversity of cultures interacting in this region during the “pre-colonial” period.
Irish History and Literature
The Irish poet William Allingham couldn’t imagine what we would teach in this course. On November 11, 1866, he summed up the history of Ireland in a diary entry: “Lawlessness and turbulency, robbery and oppression, hatred and revenge, blind selfishness everywhere–no principle, no heroism. What can be done with it?” So where did the Ireland that we know come from?–the Ireland of noble freedom fighters, brilliant poetry, beautiful music, and earthy wit? In this course, students will study the history of how a poor, despised “subject people,” thought incapable of governing themselves, worked to recover and reimagine their own traditions through 500 years of British occupation. The class will begin with an examination of tribal Celtic Ireland, see how Britain colonized and displaced the cultural structures of traditional Ireland, and then examine Ireland’s post-colonial self-reinvention, including the reinvention of Irish myth and legend, following the fights for self-determination and the violent troubles between Catholic and Protestant Ireland from their origins to the present. This course may be taken for an art or history credit.
Plagues and Peoples in World History
This course explores some of the most notable epidemics in world history from the Black Death in the Middle Ages to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Humanity and epidemic disease have shared a long and intimate history. The central goal with these case studies is to understand those links between societal change and disease. Topics include the origins of epidemics; how warfare, commerce, and imperialism have shaped disease and vice versa; and how race, class, religion, and political context have informed the ways societies have dealt with (or not dealt with) disease. Students will also use the materials in this course to reflect critically on how they, themselves, explain changes in health over time and across space.
Public Digital Humanities
This course connects student learning in history and literature with the methods, approaches, and skills of using digital tools to collaborate with local communities, historical societies, museums, and libraries in projects focusing on public conversations. The primary emphasis of the course will be on local and regional history, literary, and cultural heritage, but students will make connections to topics of national and global interest. This course will allow students to do archival research, conduct oral histories, build digital presentations, analyze and write non-fiction narratives. Students can also stage performances, organize art installations, curate photographic exhibitions, and deliver public lectures on literary and historical issues. This course may be taken for an arts or history credit.
Race and Racism in Global Context
What is race? What is racism? How and where did the concept of race emerge? How have understandings of what race means changed over time and space? How do the forms and expressions of racism affect people’s lived experiences? After investigating the driving forces, machinery, and consequences of racism in different parts of the modern world, students will study and ultimately advocate for various paths to liberation. Specific topics include the misuse of science (from craniometry to DNA ancestry testing) in racial classification; affirmative action in India and Brazil; efforts to secure reparations for the translatlantic slave trade in the Carribbean and the Indian residential school system in Canada; the colonial legacy of colorism in beauty standards in Asia; and contests over memorialization, from Richmond’s Monument Avenue to #RhodesMustFall in South Africa.